Play therapy is an effective treatment process for children who may be experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties related to challenging life experiences. It is usually offered to children from ages three and upwards. Play can be a form of communication for children who do not have the language to express themselves. While it may just seem like a fun activity for children there are many benefits of play therapy that extend beyond the act of playing. With the help of a trained therapist the child can begin to learn to address difficult emotions and learn new coping mechanisms to help adapt to their situation.
What is Play Therapy ?
Children learn about the world as they grow. They do this through the adult figures that they have around them. They sometimes encounter situations that they cannot emotionally process, which can be overwhelming for them to understand. This can result in challenging behaviour, which can be a way for the child to try to express what is going on for them. In Play Therapy the therapist works with the child to provide them a space in which they feel comfortable to open up. The therapist will meet with the parents first to discuss what is going on for the child and get a better understanding of what their home life is like. In some cases the parents may be allowed into the Play Therapy sessions so that the therapist can get a better idea of what the family dynamic is like, or even how the child reacts when the parent leaves.
It is through the observation of the child’s play that the therapist can begin to understand them, it could be through the toys that they choose, how they make them interact or even what pictures they draw. As the therapist begins to get an understanding of the child, they learn how to adapt their play therapy activities to suit the child’s needs. There is an importance placed on creating a relaxed environment for the child. The sessions can be directed by the play therapist or it can also be up to the child to choose what elements of types of play they would like in the play therapy sessions.
Play Therapy Techniques
There are many techniques that can be used by the play therapist to help engage a child in self-expression. Some of the techniques involved are:
- Arts and crafts
- Sand Play
- Dolls and action figures
- Puppets and stuffed toys
It is through these techniques that the child begins to produce something, a form of self-expression, that can then be interpreted by the therapist. In a similar way to the use of language in traditional psychotherapy approaches, therapeutic play is seen as being a non-verbal way of expression that can have a significant meaning for the child. The child may be struggling with expression and becoming frustrated in the place that they are in. One of the advantages in having a space that is just for them is that there is no expectation placed upon them to respond or behave in a certain way, which can be a relief for a child. They can begin to understand how their emotions and behaviours may be difficult from a neutral perspective, and if there is less demand placed upon them there can be more of a willingness to work through and change some of these behaviours.
Play Therapy for Different Ages
One of the advantages of Play Therapy is that it can be used across a range of ages for children and adolescents, the types of play therapy can be adapted depending on the age of the clients. Some of the play therapy activities for 4 year olds and other young children would involve the use of toys, such as dolls and action figures, as these toys may be more appealing to the age group they are in. If the child is age 10 and up then the focus may be more upon using artistic or musical expression. Sand therapy can also be another comforting form of expression for adolescents. There are also links between play therapy and autism. If non-verbal children are working with a play therapist they can engage using sensory stimulation. With autistic children it can seem like there is no language available to them. However it can be through the use of play therapy that these children find their own language. Their self-expression does not need to be verbal for them to connect to any difficult emotions they are experiencing.
Play therapy is an accessible way for children to be able to navigate their way through difficult early life struggles that they may experience. Building coping skills and learning to identify negative emotional and behavioural patterns is a skill that will benefit a child throughout their life. Like with many other therapy approaches, there is an importance placed upon self-expression. If there are parts of us that are ignored or pushed down they can reappear in some other way. But if these patterns are identified and worked through in a healthy manner with a therapist that your child feels secure working with, they can then experience a better quality of life as they grow. Both parent and child experience the benefits of play therapy, it can help improve relationships and dynamics within the family if everyone is engaged to understand what is best for the child.
At Mind and Body Works we have a number of play therapists in Dublin, who are fully qualified, registered and accredited with the main bodies for Play Therapy in Ireland. If you are interested in making an appointment or understanding more about play therapy please contact our admin team on 01 677 1021 or at email@example.com to help guide you through this process for your child.